Editor's Note: This story has been corrected. In a previous version, a quote from Jacques Pepin was not identified as coming from him. We regret this error.
This time of year, many of us think of eating candy and carving pumpkins for display on the porch. Some of us also enjoy the taste of fall in pumpkin beer and pumpkin flavored lattes. Of course, actual pumpkins are not just for decoration or to flavor seasonal beverages, but are delicious and packed full of nutrients, too.
Pumpkins are native to our area, and the Native Americans used them as food and medicine. European settlers incorporated them in their diets and sent their seeds back for cultivation in Europe.
The tradition from the British Isles of carving lanterns out of turnips or other root vegetables at Halloween was brought to America with the settlers, and the native pumpkin was used in place of European veggies. These lanterns were used to scare away evil spirits at Halloween, and a treat was often left alongside the lantern to make sure the spirits didn’t play tricks and mess with the home or livestock.
Some nutritional facts about pumpkin:
- Pumpkins are high in fiber (high fiber diets help with weight management, and can lower cholesterol).
- Pumpkins are high in vitamins like Vitamin C, which boosts immunity, and Vitamin E, which is great for the skin.
- Pumpkins are high in minerals like magnesium, potassium, iron, and zinc, which are vital for many of the functions of our body, including regulating blood pressure, heart health, bone health.
- Pumpkins are very high in carotenoids that give them their orange color, and can help lower the risk of various cancers.
- Pumpkins are also high in lutein and zeaxanthin, which are critical for eye health.
Everyone loves a good pumpkin pie, but you can include pumpkin in cookies, pumpkin bread, soup, or roasted with butter and salt. You can also try this pumpkin gratin recipe from Jacques Pepin.
"The only way I ate pumpkin as a child was in a savory gratin, so the first time I had it in the United States — sweet, in a pie — I thought it was a mistake," Pepin said, as an introduction to this recipe on his website. "I've come to love pumpkin pie and I still enjoy pumpkin in the gratin of my youth. The combination of Swiss cheese, eggs, and cream comes together into something like a smooth and creamy soufflé, capturing the flavors of fall. Canned pumpkin speeds things up."
I made it for Thanksgiving last year and it was a big hit!
Please don’t forget about the seeds. Pumpkin seeds are very nutritious and make a great snack. They are high in protein and contain phosphorus, magnesium and manganese, zinc, iron and copper. They are also a great source of vitamin K, which is important for bone health.
You can eat them alone or with other nuts, seeds and dried fruit in your own trail mix. They are great tossed into salads or on top of roasted or sautéed vegetables. You can even put them on cereal or oatmeal, in cookies, or in meatloaf or burgers.
So how do you choose a pumpkin to cook or carve?
Bigger pumpkins are better for carving, and smaller pumpkins are generally sweeter and better for cooking. You can also use canned pumpkin for cooking and it is even better than fresh for many baked goods. Fresh pumpkin is better for savory dishes and dishes where higher water content is needed.
Keep in mind that injuries to the hands and fingers are the most common Halloween injuries and you really need to be careful when carving a pumpkin. Most of these pumpkin carving injuries happen to children between the ages of 10 and 14, so make sure an experienced carver is in charge.
Have a safe and healthy Halloween and enjoy your pumpkins!